NEW DELHI—Newspapers from across the country had almost uniformly positive coverage of the Supreme Court’s historic verdict to read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and decriminalise gay sex in India, reflecting how the conversation around sexuality has moved from the margins to mainstream of Indian public discourse.
This morning, HuffPost India reporters read through dailies in their first languages to get a sense of how LGBTQ rights — often portrayed as a preoccupation of urban, English-speaking elites — are spoken of across the country.
All the dailies covered the judgment but differed on the depth and enthusiasm of their reportage, offering a glimpse of both — their editorial vision, and how they perceive the interests of their audiences.
Punjab’s leading Daily Ajit, Dainik Bhaskar and also Dainik Jagran, for instance, gave the verdict only perfunctory coverage, offering neither space on the front-page, nor photographs of local celebrations, or any human interest stories.
Yet the Hindi editions of Bhaskar and Jagran offered comprehensive coverage of the verdict.
The wide-ranging coverage in the language press is a recent development, according to LGBTQ activist Saleem Kidwai.
In the past, Kidwai said, “Every year, some Hindi reporters visit me to take my quotes on a civic issue in Lucknow. Every year, I tell them that I have nothing new left to tell them and instead I try to direct them to issues regarding the LGBT community and ask them to write about it.”
The reporters would listen quietly and leave, Kidwai recalled. Thursday’s verdict appears to have changed that to some degree.
News of the verdict made it to the front-pages of Anandabazar Patrika, and Pratidin, two of the four major Bengali newspapers published out of Kolkata, while Bartaman and Ajkal devoted their front pages to the Kolkata bridge collapse.
Inside, an Anandabazar Patrika reporter spoke to a school teacher from a small town in West Bengal, who recounted her struggle as a lesbian woman in a claustrophobic small town and concluded that the judgment may not be able to counter the biases of the society and her neighbours who think she suffering from a mental illness. The paper also carried an editorial on the implications of the judgment.
The news was the lead article on Bengali paper Pratidin, which led with a picture of celebrations in Kolkata’s street. It’s headline said in big, bold fonts: “Homosexuality is not a crime.”
Bartaman, one of the oldest newspapers in the country, however, did not carry the news on the front page which was occupied by articles on the Kolkata bridge collapse. On its website, news on the SC verdict can be found after quite a bit of scrolling down.
The entire front page of Ajkal is devoted to news on the Kolkata bridge collapse. A single column dedicated to snippets has everything on the Bharat Bandh to something about Salman Khan, but not the SC verdict. The news has been carried on page 5 of the paper headlined, ‘There’s a rainbow in India’s skies’.
The Delhi editions of Kerala’s biggest newspapers — Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi — both carried the Supreme Court’s verdict as their lead stories on the top half of Page 1. In most of Manorama‘s Kerala editions, the news was still the lead but shared the top half of the page with a photo of Thrissur’s Peringalkuthu dam, which is now running almost dry. Mathrubhumi also carried an excerpt from the judgement, a short explanation on Section 377 and quotes from four of the five judges on the bench. Mathrubhumi had an editorial titled “Historic Moment” hailing the verdict and discussing the long legal battle that finally led to this point. It also carried articles by a Supreme court advocate, a social activist and a short reaction from a member of Queerala, an organisation of queer Malayalis. Mathrubhumi also had short profiles of Navtej Johar, Ritu Dalmia and the other petitioners in the case, a small world map highlighting the countries where gay sex is no longer illegal, a timeline of the legal battle and a small story discussing Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s observations on identity.
Manorama also had news stories inside discussing the judgement and carried longer quotes from the four judges with the headline ” History should apologise to them”. Its editorial and op-eds were on post-flood reconstruction, which is understandable but also surprising in the aftermath of a Supreme Court verdict that has a direct impact on the lives of millions, among them many Malayalis. The Delhi edition of the newspaper also had a photo on the back page showing hotelier Keshav Suri, a petitioner in the case, raising a rainbow flag.
Three of the most widely read Marathi newspapers, Loksatta, Maharashtra Times and Lokmat reported about the Supreme Court judgement surrounding Section 377 on the front pages in a celebratory tone. All three reported the development and published lead editorials about the court order endorsing it.
Loksatta published an editorial endorsing the judgement titled, “I am what I am”. It’s thrust was conveyed in the deck that said, “The decision about Section 377 is the beginning of the creation of a system that gives importance to individual rights.”
Lokmat’s multiple sub headlines conveyed the positive tone of its coverage. “Living with pride is now possible,” “150-years-long injustice is conclusively eliminated,” and so on. It’s editorial, also, endorsed the SC judgment. “The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court has increased the space for individual rights,” says the editorial.
On its part, the Maharastra Times, published by The Times Group, titled its editorial, “For a healthy society”. Notably, in its editorial, the Maharashtra Times taunts the Hindu conservative opinion by suggesting that those who are reminded of (possible threats to) “Indian culture” following the judgement, may wish to study the meaning of Khajuraho and the Mahabharata yet again.
READ: Section 377 Verdict Lets This Punjab Policewoman And Her Wife Live Without Fear